So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Tag Archives: steakhouse

More about steak temperatures and food-borne illnesses

At the blog, “You’re My Shadow Today”, the subject of steak temperatures came up.

This was something that the blog “In The Weeds” recently tackled

and a topic that I also discussed a couple of months back.

One interesting comment was from someone with HIV who always gets steak cooked to well done out of a concern for health. Patients with HIV and AIDS are usually told to avoid “undercooked foods”, including steaks.

I was going to get on my high horse and say that you can safely eat a medium-rare or medium steak without fear of contamination because of the fact that e Coli and other pathogens that might be transmitted through an intact steak (as opposed to punctured or ground meat) are actually killed in the cooking process because they are “surface dwellers” that are aerobic (they need oxygen to survive and reproduce) and are killed when the steak is exposed to heat above 145º (giving an extra 5º as a hedge). This obviously happens when you cook a steak even to rare, although the USDA says that you should cook the internal temperature to at least 145º because they want to be super safe in these litigious times.

However, as it turns out, there’s a bigger reason why an internal temperature of 145º is the absolute safest way to go (which is what I consider the high side of medium). Turns out that it’s not so simple. Why, you might ask.

Turns out that some lower quality steaks are “blade tenderized” (or “needled” or “pinned”). This is akin to pounding a veal scallopini or pricking a flank steak with a fork or a roller to tenderize it. This damages the integrity of the surface and can drive pathogens into the interior of the steak while it indeed tenderizes what might be a tougher cut of meat.

Fortunately, if you go to the major steakhouses, you can be assured that this doesn’t happen. I’m not prepared to say what kind of restaurants that serve steaks might serve these sort of steaks, as you’re seeing lesser expensive steaks in all sorts of casual dining restaurants these days. It’s unlikely that you will find such “adulteration” of cuts like sirloin, t-bones, strips, tenderloins, etc. even in lower end places, but it’s certainly possible that you might find it in tougher cuts like flank steaks. Fortunately, those are the type of steaks that you want to cook longer anyway.

Here’s an article that lays out the issue, and everyone should read it:

Now, lest you think that I’m going to be ordering my steaks medium well, you’ve got another think coming. But I don’t have HIV, lupus, or any other immune-compromised issue. Mine is a personal decision. I think I’ve got a better chance of getting sick from cross-contamination (which is independent of internal temperature) than I do from some odd steak having a natural fissure in it that allows pathogens to get beyond the flame or running into a blade-tenderized cut somewhere that just happens to be infected. However, those with health issues or personal health concerns should read the above article and decide for yourself.

And, for those of you who grill steaks at home, you should keep away from those long pointy forks that some use to turn steaks after stabbing them. Most cooks know that it’s bad to puncture a steak because it releases juices, but the more important reason is that it sacrifices the surface integrity of the muscle meat. Even if the fork is squeaky clean, it could drive pathogens into the center of the steak, where, if you don’t cook it to the high end of medium (145º), you could give someone e Coli. So don’t do it. I don’t even own a prong like that anymore.

From The Wall Street Journal – Financial trader moves to waiter

A Finance Executive Walks Away to Work His Way Up From Waiter

By Dawn Falik

“Scott Gould went from trader to waiter—by choice.

Growing up in Florida, Mr. Gould enjoyed working in restaurants as a waiter and bartender. But he also liked working with numbers, and after graduating from the University of Florida, he went into finance. He got a job in New York as a fixed-income trader in 2000, and later raised money to invest in new markets and help develop avenues for investments.

He learned to do research and listen to customers. Every client wanted something a little different. One might want something aggressive; another, lower risks.

Life-Altering Moment

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Gould was working in his office near the World Trade Center. He evacuated after the first plane hit. As he walked down 36 flights of stairs, he saw the second plane fly into the tower.

It made him re-evaluate his career. “I had to think, ‘Do I love what I’m doing?’ and I couldn’t answer yes,” he says. “It’s not like I hated going to work, but we spend so much time working and it wasn’t exciting and I wasn’t running to the office on Monday morning.”

He kept thinking back to how he had liked working in restaurants. As a trader, he had taken clients regularly to Del Frisco’s, a steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan. On a whim, he called a manager he knew. He asked for a job.

Behind the Bar

There was an opening—as a server. He handed in his notice the next day, took two weeks off and started at Del Frisco’s in August 2002″.

Read the exciting conclusion to the article here:

Steakhouses work the bar angle to attract guests

Premium steakhouses are using expanded bar offerings, in both the food and drink realm, to bring guests back to their dining rooms and bars. They are offering smaller and less expensive variations on their normal fare, almost in a tapas style. They are also rolling out signature drinks in order to capture a younger demographic.













Morton’s has their “Power Hour” in selected locations. They have some value-priced $5 glasses of wine, $7 “Mortini’s” (selected Martinis, Cosmopolitans and Mojitos) and they are offering $6 “bar bites”, including miniature crab cakes, trios of little burgers, four tiny filet mignon “sandwiches” and “iceberg wedge bites”.










The Palm Steakhouse has upped the ante with their “Prime Times Bites” bar menu. They also have trios of “sliders”, theirs being Kobe beef. They have a smaller version of their massive fried calamari bowl, plus they have mini crab cakes, a trio of steak “capri” sliders (steak, basil and mozzarella) and little Philly steak bites. Prices range from $7 to $12  but from 5-7pm and after 9pm, they sell for the unheard of price of $3.50 (three Kobe beef sliders for only about 50 cents more than Krystal or White Castle burgers?!!??) They have also done an upscale makeover of the look of their bar tables . This is rolling out nationwide as I write this, having been tested in certain locations.








Fleming’s Steakhouse has their “5 for $6 ’til 7” promotion in their bar. For $6, they have 5 premium cocktails, 5 value priced wines and 5 appetizers such as “tenderloin carpaccio”, seared ahi tuna and “wicked cajun barbecue shrimp”. This is served from 5pm to 7pm.

These are examples of fresh thinking in the steakhouse sector. They augment the usual summer special dinner deals that chains have been offering during their slower months and are intended to expand their demographic.

How things have changed since 2005 when Nation’s Restaurant News ran an article entitled “Big high-end steakhouse chains are primed for 10% growth”. Here’s a snippet of that optimistic report:

“Demand for high-end steakhouses seems to have continued to rise in many markets across the country. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this in 25 years,’ said Dave Cattell, chief development officer for Ruth’s Chris, the 86-unit chain based in Metairie, La. ‘There are lots of opportunities, and I don’t see any end in sight.’ “.

You can access the rest of the article here:;col1

Morton’s – The Steakhouse forced to close three locations

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From Nation’s Resaurant News Breaking News:

Morton’s shutters three restaurants

By Dina  Berta


CHICAGO (July  14, 2009) Morton’s Restaurant Group, whose namesake steakhouse chain has suffered dramatic drops in sales this year, recently closed three of its 81 restaurants.

Morton’s spokesman Roger Drake on Tuesday cited “a strategic assessment of trends” for the closures of restaurants in Southfield, Mich.; Westchester, Ill.; and Minneapolis. The Michigan and Illinois stores closed June 26 and 27, respectively, and the Minneapolis location closed July 3.

For the closings in Minneapolis and Westchester, a reported company statement alluded to those restaurants not meeting “base financial targets needed to support continued operations.”

Upscale steakhouse chains like Morton’s have seen falling customer traffic as corporate expense accounts shrink and consumers cut back on spending. In May, Morton’s reported that same-store sales plummeted 24.1 percent for the April-ended first quarter and said it expected same-store sales to continue to drop for the rest of the year.

“The recession affects convention business,hotel occupancy and air travel, which all have a direct correlation on our business at Morton’s,” Thomas Baldwin, chairman and chief executive, said in a statement in May.

Read the rest of the article here:

The high-end chain steakhouse segment hasn’t proved immune to the economic climate. Ruth’s Criss has reported large losses, Capital Grill has suffered crippling quarterly drops in profit, and even the Palm, which seems to be outperforming the rest of the segment, has had to close two under-performing restaurants itself in the past couple of years.

Steakhouses are trying to attract new guests and save regulars by offering such things as half-price wine on certain days, inexpensive bar menus, and prix fixe dinners at reduced prices.

This is not symptomatic just of the high end segment. Mass market casual chains have also been hit hard and are trimming their properties as well. They are also being aggressive with coupons, 2-for-1 entree specials and special promotions.

While restaurants are being far more accommodating to the dining public than before, it isn’t totally a case of the guest getting what they want at all costs. Restaurants are getting closer to what they should always be, i.e. welcoming and flexible toward the guests’ needs and appreciative of their patronage. But one unintended consequence that the guest might need to be aware of is that restaurants are occasionally trimming their service away from their posted hours, especially in high-end restaurants. If you are dining late, it’s more important than ever to make a prior reservation  because you might walk in at 10:15 to find that the restaurant that normally closes at 11pm has already closed their kitchen. If you make that late reservation, the management can plan accordingly. These days, if the last table is at 8pm and there are only one or two walk-ins before 9pm, many managers now have permission to close the kitchen early at their discretion.

So, while guests might rejoice that they seem to have the upper hand in their relationship with the restaurant, there’s another side to the coin.


Steak and meat temperatures

Steak temperatures are the cause of many complaints from guests. And for good reason.

There is no 100% “accepted standard” for internal temperatures for steaks.

However, there are some “industry standards” that have been in play for a long time and these standards generally work for the home griller as well.

Generally speaking:

Rare – 120° – 125°
Medium Rare – 125° -135°
Medium – 140° – 145°
Medium Well – 150° – 160°
Well Done 160 – 170° (170° being almost inedible)

Here’s  a good pictorial series showing what each temperature should look like when you cut the steak open:

Note that this doesn’t agree exactly with my chart. I consider those “in-between temperatures” to be “plus”. There’s some leeway, which is, of course, part of the problem. Not only do patrons have their own ideas of what a perfect medium rare is, so do different restaurants. There is no one universal standard, so it’s up to the waiter to know the standards of their own restaurant. Heck, even different broiler cooks in the same restaurants can have different ideas as well, so the astute waiter gets to know each broiler cook’s output. 

Compounding this problem is the USDA weighing in on the subject. The USDA traditionally errs on the side of being conservative because of legal issues. “Better safe than sorry” is their motto. The USDA now “recommends” that steaks be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°. This isn’t a legal requirement or anything – don’t worry, you can still get your steaks rare at most restaurants. The thing is, the USDA calls this “medium-rare”. Most people will not recognize this as medium rare. Not even close. And you now have standards starting to reflect this in certain quarters, probably because of the very potential legal issues that I mentioned.

Here’s the thing – for “intact muscle meat”, even the USDA is more lenient than they are for ground beef and steaks which have been punctured by a fork or a temperature probe. You see, the main worry about meat is e.Coli, which is an aerobic pathogen. That means that it needs oxygen to survive. You won’t find it in the muscle itself, only on the surface. It’s killed at 160° or higher. As long as you don’t puncture the steak, this will occur on the surface, where it matters, even with a rare steak. People don’t have anything to fear from a steak that’s cooked less than the USDA recommended temperature, unless there is a cross-contamination issue, such as a cook or chef handling raw chicken with e.Coli or some other pathogen and then handling your steak, or putting a cooked steak on a contaminated cutting board. The reason that ground beef has to be cooked to 160° to be considered “safe” is for this very reason. Being ground up, there’s far more surface area on the inside of the meat that is exposed to oxygen. This is why some places refuse to cook a hamburger at anything less than medium, and even at medium, you’re running a risk (note – I prefer my hamburgers cooked no longer than medium rare because I’m willing to assume the risk, which means that I can’t patronize places like 5 Guys or Red Robin).

So what’s a poor server to do, especially if they work in a steakhouse? The main thing is to know your house standards. From a logistics standpoint, it’s very difficult to ask each person that orders a steak what color they like, especially since most people are in sync with the general guidelines. But if you sense that someone isn’t sure, you should always ask them what color that they like their steak. But you should be prepared for some resistance sometimes. For instance, in my place, we generally adhere to the above guidelines. But people used to getting steaks in other places or that have cooked their own steaks a certain way for years might be surprised by your recommendations. For instance, if someone says that they want just pink, I have to steer them to medium well because, in our restaurant, medium still will have some red (or appear that way in the lighting of the restaurant). I always say “Medium is red starting to go pink”. That pretty much covers a good range for medium. This is what my experience says occurs when a steak comes out medium in my restaurant. This surprises some people and they sometimes resist getting medium well because they associate that with the overcooked product that they might get in other restaurants. I hedge my bets even further by telling people that some patrons think that we “undercook” a little. Some guests will use the phrases “warm red center”, “cool red center”, “hot pink”. It’s up to you to know what this means in your restaurant. BTW, no broiler cook ever actually “takes a temperature” – the do it all by feel. Most use the “hand method”. This is using the fleshy pad of the thumb to determine what each temperature is. Once a broiler cook gets the concept down, he or she is able to press the top of the steak or squeeze the sides to determine doneness. First of all, they don’t have time to take temperatures. Second of all, they destroy the integrity of the meat by sticking a probe into it. This allows juices to escape, plus, it actually makes it more dangerous from a health standpoint, as I explained earlier. Here’s a great pictorial:

There are a couple of other categories – “Pittsburgh”, which most people associate with what most restaurants call “Black and Blue”. A true “Pittsburgh” is seared almost black on the outside but can be cooked at pretty much to any temperature, even though it’s rare (pardon the pun) to order it above medium rare. “Black and Blue” is seared black on the outside and pretty much raw on the inside (also called “Pittsburgh rare”). You might also hear “Chicago style”, which is searing the steak after it’s already cooked to whichever temperature the patron desires.

Should a waiter ask for the guest to cut into their steak to “make sure it’s cooked the way you like”? Opinion is divided on this. My thought is that you’re admitting that your kitchen might not be able to hit the desired temperature. Better to ask if “everything is cooked to your liking” at the first check-back (no later than 3 minutes after service). And don’t ask if the steaks are cooked that way – just ask “if everything” is cooked correctly. It’s best not to show concern about a specific product. However, as always, follow your house policies on this.

If you serve veal chops, it’s best to recommend that they be cooked medium rare or higher, even if the guest normally has his or her steaks cooked rare. This is because veal is so tender, if you cook it rare, it’s generally mushy. It needs to firm up a little. Of course, don’t make an issue about it. If the guest wants it rare after your explanation, by all means, order it for them that way. It’s the same for pork chops or veal tenderloin, except that you might want to recommend medium (pork is very tender as well). Guests might be concerned about ordering pork anything less than medium well or well done, but the concern is pretty much unfounded. But it’s not your job to convert them. Simply state that medium well will reduce the juicy quality that we treasure from pork and then follow their lead.

Having said all of that, I suppose that I need to cover my legal bases and say that every person should understand that this is my opinion only (and actually the opinion of many professionals in the industry) and that you don’t follow the USDA guidelines at your own risk.

I only wish that the USDA wouldn’t try to redefine what we mean by medium rare. It would be better if they acknowledge what most people accept as rare through well done and simply “recommend” not ordering or cooking a steak at anything less than medium. That would be just fine. Instead, you have some people adopting new standards based on this recommendation (and I haven’t been able to find the USDA’s temperature charts for anything other than their recommendation for 145 being “medium rare). One source that I found actually called rare 140°! that’s insane. Until a little common sense is shown, we’re going to continue to have confusion at the table. It’s up to the server to try and figure out that the guest really wants.

Remember – the key is knowing your house policies when it comes to describing steak temperatures and the proper procedures for handling a re-cook or a guest’s issues with steak temperatures.

This is what I’d consider a great medium rare steak. Some people would consider this “rare”. You can see that it’s still “rare” in the middle. But you can see about 1/4 inch of cooked steak around the edge. To get this, the bright red meat is brought up from a “cold/cool red” to a “warm red”. It still looks “rare” but it’s not. Rare should be bright red all the way to at about 1/8 of an inch from the surface (or at least bright pink in the last 1/4 inch).

Medium rare:


Rare steak:


Here’s a perfectly cooked medium well steak, although most medium well steaks that you are likely to encounter won’t be nearly as uniform. Some will only be that color in the middle, with a large ring of brown around the middle.


New link posted – Steakhouse Blues

I highly recommend this blog from “old school steakhouse general manager–80 hours a week putting out fires [sometimes literally], correcting grammar, opening wine, directing traffic, trying not to kill everyone, and happily receiving the financial tributes of our adoring guests one benjamin at a time

It’s not often that a post on a blog almost brings me to tears. But this is one of them. I demand that everyone go to this blog and read the entire post. It’s too long to reproduce here, and even the extract that I’m posting is longer than I prefer, because usually you can get the gist of a post in the first paragraph or two. However, to get to the essense of the post, I had to include the following:

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

I claim to be an average man of less than average ability. I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith“–Mahatma Gandhi

“Where’s Mr. O’Leary been?”

The question from one of our longest-tenured servers catches me unawares. Mr. O’Leary is one of our most prized guests and one of the richest men in our generally very prosperous city. He is a legend throughout the local dining community–out to dinner six or seven nights a week, choosing from a small group of favored restaurants and literally showering them with his largess.

Every time I see Mr. O’Leary I think of the scene in “My Blue Heaven”, an otherwise exceedingly ordinary comedy about a gangster stuck in middle America as part of the Witness Protection Program. Steve Martin plays the mobster, who attempts to tip his FBI caseworker [Rick Moranis] upon first meeting him–When Rick Moranis‘ character questions the action, the gangster responds matter-of-factly by saying, “Ay…I tip evvverrrrybodddy!”

Mr. O’Leary tips everybody as well. To use another gangster movie allusion, this one from “Goodfellas“, when Mr. O’Leary is in the house, the bartender gets $20 just for keeping the ice cubes cold.

Once the server mentioned Mr. O’Leary’s absence, it occurred to me that indeed we probably hadn’t seen him for nearly six weeks–immediately I was both concerned and embarrassed. Concerned because while in good health, he is an older guy, and I was afraid something might have happened. Embarrassed because over the last few months my attention has been diverted by other things and my observational powers have suffered as a result–I hadn’t noticed his absence at all.

You simply must read this entry. In fact, this blog is a definite keeper. The posts are detailed, well-written and full of humanity; the first being a common trait of GMs, the second a sometimes quality that you find because GMs do a lot of their interaction on the phone and in person plus, they generally don’t have time to do a blog in the first place, and the latter, a quite rare quality in a GM . Therefore, it’s being enthusiastically added to my blogroll.
Let’s all welcome Steadkhouse Blues with a rousing Hurrah!